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China Spices Things Up for Skiers in Asia

Illustration for TIME by Wu Wing Yee


By GEOFF BURPEE

Sports editors the world over must have done a double take last month when Zali Steggall of Australia--no, not Austria--won the women's slalom at the World Ski Championships in Vail, Colorado. Suddenly, skiing in the Asian-Pacific region doesn't seem so silly after all. And with winter waning, it's a great time to strap on the boards: the days are growing longer, and Asian resorts have plenty of granular "corn" snow for easy schussing. A further incentive is that Asia has never been friendlier for the novice and intermediate skier, thanks to softer currencies and the rise of a new destination, China.

While South Korea and Japan have many established resorts, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous (in Japan, some indulge their passion in indoor, underground ski garages), China has some relatively new, inexpensive destinations. The front-runner--and recent host to the Third Asian Winter Games--is Yabuli Resort, a three-year-old, 400-hectare area 200 km northeast of Harbin in Heilongjiang province. Norwegian-built chair lifts (two on the lower slopes, connecting to a third that scales the summit) service 13 trails and a vertical drop of more than 700 m, offering intermediate skiing with decent conditions stretching well into April. The prices are reasonable, too: a lift ticket plus a complete set of rental equipment--skis, boots and poles--is less than $50 a day. (Jackets, goggles and gloves can also be rented.) Accommodations run from $15 dorms to $100 A-frame chalets. There is also unique après-ski, with bonfires, rice wine and horse-drawn sleighs piloted by wiry local Santa Clauses. A week's package from Hong Kong, with accommodation, flights and three days of skiing, costs $1,100. Several Chinese carriers have flights to Harbin through Beijing or direct from Hong Kong. From Harbin, Yabuli is a two-hour drive along a smooth two-lane highway. Call Yabuli Ski in Beijing at 86-10-2880-4553.

Just south, in neighboring Jilin province, lie Songhuahu Qingshan and Beidahu resorts--each with lifts serving two separate trail systems on 371-m and 400-m verticals respectively. While the après-ski is more deep-China than St. Moritz, it's steeped in rustic atmosphere. Accommodation is cheap and basic (from $4 bunks to $50 rooms), though facilities are improving. Getting there--ideally by rail from Beijing or Harbin, to avoid icy roads--takes longer but makes for great sightseeing.

For more adventure, China Ski Corp. has launched its first Spring Summits package: a two-week walking, skiing and road tour (four-wheel-drive car with driver included) of Heilongjiang and Qinghai provinces at $2,895 a person (plus a $450 government fee). After two days on the slopes of Yabuli, the trip shifts to guest houses in Qinghai. From the foot of 6,670-m Mt. Animaqin, skiers hike to 5,100 m and descend through expert terrain. Aiming to combine the ski experience with the cultural, the trip includes two nights' lodging with a local family. Go to China Adventure Travel Online or call 1-303-277-0500. China doesn't yet offer a Kitzbuhl or a Whistler. But skiers may discover that pairing their sport with an unusual look at Chinese rural life has plenty to fire the imagination.





Daily

March 8, 1999

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Main Feature
Asia has never been friendlier for the novice and intermediate skier, thanks to softer currencies and the rise of a new destination, China




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